The Ottumwa Courier

March 20, 2014

Bringing textbook learning to the real world

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — A new partnership between Indian Hills Community College and River Hills Dental Clinic is giving area students the most well-rounded education possible.

Indian Hills began its dental assisting program in August, so this is the first group of students to begin their clinicals. The Dental Assisting program is a 12-month program designed to prepare the students to assist with patient care, take and process dental radiographs, prepare tray setups for dental procedures, maintain infection control and hazardous waste protocols and perform office administrative functions. Students meeting all of the program and graduation requirements earn an IHCC diploma.

Tara Clark has just finished her second week of clinicals at the River Hills Dental Clinic, and it's quite a change from sitting in the classroom.

"It's a little different than I thought it would be, but it's fun," Clark said. "We learned what we need to learn (in the classroom), but it's different when you're actually here."

Clark has been working with Dr. Joseph Dougherty and his assistants during her clinicals. Many of the practical aspects of a dental clinic aren't always addressed in a textbook: simply dealing with patients on a daily basis and how to make people comfortable can be learned more easily on the job.

"Real-world clinical experience is what's needed, especially in a program like this. There's only so much you can get out of a book," Dougherty said. "We want to be able to get people the experience that they need and prepare them to be able to contribute to the profession after they graduate."

The perfect example of this experience is how the students shadow the dental assistants working at the River Hills dental clinic. This gives them different perspectives and learning what works for them.

"You get to sit down with the patient, see how we interact," he said, "and get those hand skills. You can't learn hand skills reading a book. Working with your hands is the biggest part of dentistry."

Dr. Ken Jones, dental director at River Hills' dental clinic, says that this type of hands-on learning is crucial for Clark and these students as they look for jobs after graduation.

"Every dentist practices a little bit differently, so getting a variety of techniques will be better for her when she gets done," Jones added.

Graduates of the IHCC Dental Assisting program will be eligible to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). For dental assistants who meet the eligibility and exam requirements, national DANB certification may be earned as a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).

This is the second dental clinical student River Hills has had this year. In February, a student from the University of Iowa dental school did his five-week extramural rotation, which is a requirement in their senior year.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC